UK markets make steady progress in early trade on Friday with a mixture of corporate news, takeover gossip and financial data lift the mood of investors. The FTSE 100 is 23 points higher, or 0.3%, at 6,820, just off year-long resistance at around 6,875, but nudging ever closer to that magic 7,000 marker. Mid caps also rally, the FTSE 250 index putting on around 90 points, or 0.5%, to 16,468, level last seen in March 2014.

Greece's election this weekend is the market's next major hurdle. Financials stud the Footsie leader board, led by insurers Legal & General (LGEN) (up 2% at 266.5p) and Admiral (ADM), nudging similarly higher at £14.75. Miners are generally lower, but oil stocks make modest gains, although Tullow Oil (TLW) actually heads today's Footsie fallers, off 3.5% at 374.7p, still under pressure from its multiple operational challenges.

Telecoms groups Vodafone (VOD) and BT (BT.A) make decent as merger fever sweeps the industry after the announcement that the owner of the '3' mobile network, Hutchison Whampoa (0013:HK), is in talks to buy O2 from Telefonica (TEF:MC) in a £10 billion deal. Shares in the UK pair rise 2% to 243.9p, and 1.7% higher 428.4p, respectively.

Property titans rising included Hammerson (HMSO), up 1.62% to 689.5p, followed by Land Securities (LAND). Retail-related stocks rise too, with Unilever (ULVR) up 1.72% to £28.33, with Tesco (TSCO) adding 1.55% to 239.5p.

Mr. Kipling cakes-to-Bisto gravy maker Premier Foods (PFD) powers 11.6% higher to 41p on a fourth quarter update showing an improving sales trend. Premier achieved trading profit of £131 million for 2014, in-line with downgraded expectations following a recent profit warning (23 Oct).

North Sea oil producer EnQuest (ENQ) jumps 32.5% to 39.75p as it reveals its lenders have agreed to relax banking covenants due to the fall in the oil price. The revelation addresses a nagging doubt in the market which had heavily undermined the shares.

Spectris (SXS) has completed the acquisition of ReliaSoft Corp, based in Arizona. Purchase price was $42 million, on a debt and cash-free basis, and would be met from existing cash and bank facilities and is subject to routine balance sheet adjustments. The stock rises 1% to 2195.5p.

Ultra Electronics' (ULE) Oman Airport IT contract has been terminated. Talks with the customer would begin next week to work towards settlement. Impact on FY 2015 underlying profit was expected to be minimal.

High-end shoemaker Jimmy Choo (CHOO) steps 4.1% higher to 174.9p on a positive year-end trading statement. Issuing its maiden performance figures since IPO in October, the British luxury brand flags sales up 12% to almost £300 million in 2014, driven by a mix of new store openings, healthy like-for-like growth and wholesale progress. Shares highlighted the attraction's of Jimmy's global growth story in December.

Space and People (SAL:AIM), up 18.9% to 53.5p, says trading during the last four months of the year has been robust with FY profits expected to be at the upper end of market expectations and higher than expected cash inflows with a net cash balance at Dec. 31, 2014, of £1.5 million.

Cambria Africa (CMB:AIM) is calling an AGM to seek shareholders' approval to cancel its AIM listing. Its shares fell 52.73% to 0.65p. Meantime, Robinson (RBN:AIM), down 10.66% to 155p, says FY revenues are anticipated to be £28.1 million, a 20% hike on the year. Underlying sales volumes in the pre-existing businesses remained at last year's level.

Big data enabler WANdisco (WAND:AIM), up 1.3% to 395p, has announced a conditional placing of 4.8 million new shares at a price of 375p each to raise about $24.8 million. The placing shares represented about 19.6% of the existing issued share capital.

Fitbug (FITB:AIM) climbs 7% to 7.5p on news its digital health coaching platform Kiqplan is the official fitness partner of Race for Life. The plans will be promoted to the 500,000 women who take part in 5k and 10k events across the country.

Terry Leahy-chaired value retailer B&M European Value Retail (BME) is marked up 2.9% to 310.75p on a strong Christmas trading update, showing UK like-for-like sales 4.5% ahead.

Upholstered furniture-to-floorings seller ScS (SCS) announces the pricing for its IPO, ahead of its return to the stockmarket next week (28 Jan) with a £70 million debut tag. Having rejuvenated the business, owner Sun European Partners has sold 20.4 million shares at an offer price of 175p, though it will still hold 41.6% post-float. ScS returns to the quoted company arena targeting an 8% dividend yield to boot.

Life sciences tool provider Avacta (AVCT:AIM) gains 2.7% to 0.7p on forming a partnership with Norwegian biotech D’Liver to develop affimers, proteins used in drug research.

Issue Date: 23 Jan 2015